Editorial 1/ Divide and gain
Editorial 2/ State of health
Devouring all the worlds
Fifth Column/This may be the beginning of the end
No time for celebration
Document/ Every penny not paid back is a penny saved
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL 1/ DIVIDE AND GAIN 
 
 
 
 
According to budget papers, the Central government employs 3.4 million people. The railways employs 1.6 million. In December 1998, the government constituted an expert group to recommend required railways reform and the Economic Survey says that this report is “under examination”. Were these reforms to be implemented, there would be an Indian Railways corporation and the government would be able to downsize 1.6 million people. Meanwhile, Mr Nitish Kumar has performed his own version of unbundling by carving East Central Railways out of Eastern Railways. Not surprisingly, ECR will be headquartered in Hajipur and Eastern Railways will lose the Mughalsarai, Danapur and Dhanbad divisions to ECR, while North Eastern Railways will lose Sonepur and Samastipur. Mughalsarai, Danapur and Dhanbad are lucrative. Pre-partition, Eastern Railways has the dubious distinction of the highest operating ratio of 129 in the country. For every one rupee earned, Eastern Railways spends Rs 1.29. Eastern Railways’ finances will inevitably become worse. That Mr Kumar’s decision is political is evident. More accurately, this seems to be a Ram Vilas Paswan decision that Mr Kumar appropriated and will now take credit for. After all, what is good for Hajipur and Bihar is good for the railway minister. A sum of Rs 50 crore will be spent on a new railway station for Hajipur, Rs 500 crore of extra material will be bought yearly, Rs 3,500 crore will be spent on projects and land prices will increase, for 200 acres of land will be acquired in Hajipur for staff quarters.

The three political parties in West Bengal are distressed at this division flight from Eastern Railways. But it is difficult to fathom what the Congress and Trinamool Congress are complaining about. The logic of using the railways to further political interests in the railway minister’s state is one that has been used by both parties. Earlier, Ms Mamata Banerjee did not cover herself with glory in introducing railway reform, a performance she hopes to repeat soon. Beyond the myopia of railway ministers, the citizen’s agenda is of downsizing and removing flab, improving productivity, rationalizing tariffs, upgrading technology and safety standards and improving service quality through unbundling, privatization and competition. Contrary to popular perception, all railway services are not natural monopolies and successful unbundling is possible. The IRC and the Indian railways regulatory authority will also allow decisions on headquarters, divisions and new lines and trains to be taken on commercial principles, rather than the whims and fancies of individual ministers.

Perhaps the first step is to abolish the railway ministry and club the railway budget with the general one. Since the prime minister is about to reshuffle his cabinet, he needs to appreciate that the railways ministry is crucial and needs to stay with the Bharatiya Janata Party, rather than be farmed out to relatively irresponsible allies. This was the logic behind reshuffling Mr Ram Vilas Paswan and Mr Sharad Yadav earlier. The name of Mr Yashwant Sinha, who continually sees light at the end of tunnels, suggests itself. With an ECR and Eastern Railways, it is doubtful that there will be scope for another railway in Jharkhand.

   

 
 
EDITORIAL 2/ STATE OF HEALTH 
 
 
 
 
To diagnose a disease well, it is said, is to half cure it. The basic problem for West Bengal’s ailing healthcare system has been the lack not so much of funds and other resources as of a proper policy. The policy distortion created a mindset that viewed the government health services as public charity. Since the services were cheap, the users could not really complain about their abysmal quality. The decline in healthcare standards forced many people to avoid government hospitals and also to move to other states for better medical treatment. Curiously, all official moves for improvement would be restricted to cleaning up hospital compounds, ensuring regular attendance of doctors or banning agitations by employees. The health minister, Mr Suryakanta Mishra, seems to have finally realized that these are attempts at cosmetic surgery that bypass the main malady. At the heart of his reformist moves is the acceptance of the fundamental economic principle that better services and higher prices complement one another. He had made the first move by marginally increasing the fees at government hospitals in the face of strong political opposition. It is important that the government commits itself to providing not subsidized but quality health service. This policy shift will also help the state raise funds for an improved health infrastructure because the people will be willing to pay more for better services.

The emphasis on quality is also important in order to ensure higher standards for medical education and health administration. Mr Mishra’s move to set up a new institute for higher medical education and research can fill a vacuum only if he can turn it into a centre of excellence to be run professionally. He had made a beginning by allowing greater autonomy to superintendents of government hospitals. He has now gone farther by deciding to involve non-governmental organizations and doctors outside the government service in the district health committees. The earlier district committees failed in their task largely because they put too much emphasis on popular representation and too little on professional requirements. Mr Mishra can draw important lessons from the recent reforms introduced by the Madhya Pradesh government to revive the rural healthcare system in the state.

   

 
 
DEVOURING ALL THE WORLDS 
 
 
BY S.L. RAO
 
 
Last week I went to a play reading by the Little Theatre Group from Hyderabad. The title was “In the Matter of Dr J. Robert Oppenheimer”. The play was set in 1952. Oppenheimer was a brilliant physicist who had studied under Lord Rutherford at Cambridge. He was apparently a man of extraordinary intellect and charm, with wide interests in the classics, languages (he knew Greek, Latin, French and German, and learnt Dutch in two weeks to deliver a technical lecture). He had a deep interest in Eastern philosophy and was well-versed in Hindu philosophy. He was staunchly anti-Fascist and had supported the Republican movement against Franco in Spain.

Many of the outstanding intellects of his time did so. They also tended to be attracted by the egalitarian idealism of the communist movement. Some of them became members of the communist party, while others became fellow travellers. Oppenheimer by his own admission was a fellow traveller who became disillusioned with communism after the Stalinist purges. He parted ways altogether after the Hitler-Stalin pact. But his friendships with those who continued to be members or sympathizers remained even after he rose to positions of high national security in the United States of America.

He was said to be an extraordinary teacher and a brilliant theoretician who predicted many later discoveries — the neutron, positron, meson, and, neutron stars. He headed the Manhattan project and established the laboratory at Los Alamos in New Mexico. There he assembled the largest collection of powerful brains to work on a crash programme to develop a workable atom bomb before Hitler’s scientists did.

The people working with him were many of them to become Nobel Prize winners. He could manage this galaxy of talent and make his own scientific contributions to it. He was part of the Target committee that identified Hiroshima and Nagasaki for dropping the atom bombs. But when in 1945 it was proposed that a hydrogen bomb be developed, he was hesitant, and was later accused of letting his fellow-travelling sympathies and communist friendships influence his judgment.

The Atomic Energy Commission after secret hearings withdrew his security clearance. He never worked on military projects again. The play is excerpted from the records of those hearings. He is candid about his doubts after the atom bomb was dropped and seventy thousand were killed almost in an instant, about the military use of science, and the regimentation and secrecy to which scientists became subject after their brains were harnessed for military purposes. He questions whether mankind should have such powerful weapons of mass destruction and whether scientists should participate in such work. Incidentally, when asked what occurred to him when he saw the testing of the first atom bomb, he quotes from the Bhagvad Gita: “Devouring all the worlds on every side with Thy flaming mouths, thou lickest them up. Thy fiery rays fill this whole universe and scorch it with their fierce radiance. Oh Vishnu!” This was a deeply troubled man, not a traitor, and the US rehabilitated him, a few years before he died at age 63. He had moral scruples about harnessing science for destruction.

My purpose in recounting this play and refreshing my ageing memory is to ask a question about us as Indians. Do we have moral scruples, or are we too much caught up in the rituals of development and success to bother about the morality of what we do?

Our scientists have used the meagre resources of a poor country to create atom bombs, some say even hydrogen bombs, and the missiles to deliver them. Our neighbour, even poorer than we are and with fewer resources, has done the same thing. No doubt our security concerns require us to be prepared with the ultimate deterrent to a hostile neighbour. I was not against the nuclearization of India when it happened. Recent events, during which an apparently rogue government in Pakistan threatened to use it against us, made me wonder whether I was right. Very eminent people, including a former chief of the navy have come out in protest against this use of resources. But no scientist, as far as I know, has protested. Is it that in India we are either so patriotic, or suborned by the system, that we have no moral scruples about what we do? Oppenheimer led the atom bomb project, but without being a traitor, wondered whether it was right to use science for destructive purposes. He was questioning the use of science and scientists by the state. Does India not need the questioning Arundhati Roys in every sphere to keep stimulating our moral consciences?

It is argued that out of the evil of the thermonuclear bomb came good, the concept of deterrence and the pressure of the whole world on any country possessing a nuclear bomb, not to use it.

But have moral scruples taken root in India, especially among those who wield power as politicians, administrators, scientists or managers and industrialists? Perhaps on the large issues like the possible destruction of the world, there might be second thoughts. But on military matters we are blasé, and on other matters to do with our daily lives, we show little evidence of scruples. A rich man’s son can get away with murder by buying up the witnesses to his deed. Many people might die in a cinema fire, but no one is guilty. Fake drugs might imperil the lives of the sick, but the well-connected producer gets away scot-free.

Builders use adulterated cement and many consequently die in an earthquake, but no one is charged because ministers and administrators have colluded with them. A former member of parliament is killed by a fanatic mob along with many others for the crime of practising another religion, but the “incident” is dismissed as revenge. Moral scruples also do not affect manufacturers who debase the quality of their products so that they can maintain their margins. Incidents of a reputed soap manufacturer who reduced the fat content in his soap or charged a premium for his non-dairy ice cream are not unknown. There is a total lack of scruple among many of the better off, particularly when it comes to the well-being of those different from them.

The poor may have more scruples than the rich, but poor countries perhaps less than their rich counterparts. Scruples may be a luxury for them. It is the rich and powerful amongst us who do the most damage by the lack of scruples. It has been argued that the general lack of strong institutions allows people to get away with unscrupulous behaviour. If that were so, then good governance at the societal and corporate levels might improve matters. But governance is not only a matter of institutions and processes. It is even more to do with attitudes. Infosys is well-governed not merely because it has strong procedures for good governance. It has much to do with the strong core values of its founding fathers.

Perhaps we should compel behavioural change through law and let the attitudes result from the behaviour. (For example, attitudes to hygiene could result from compulsion to behave responsibly in waste disposal). Even though the law in India is poorly and unequally enforced, some behavioural and consequent attitudinal change might come about through compulsion.

One cannot find easy answers. But I suspect that we are today a cruel and selfish people, whose only concern is with our own well-being, and that of our families and friends, tribes and companies, but not in a general sense, of society and of humanity. Our ability to conceptualize these issues substitutes for the lack of their practice.

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research [email protected]

   

 
 
FIFTH COLUMN/THIS MAY BE THE BEGINNING OF THE END 
 
 
BY TILAK D. GUPTA
 
 
The results of the May 31 by-elections to 11 assembly and three Lok Sabha seats, spread across seven states, have given the Bharatiya Janata Party little to cheer about, even though some of its allies like the Biju Janata Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party have fared well in Orissa and Uttar Pradesh, respectively. The BJP could not win a single seat in this round of elections. The hardest blow came from BJP-ruled Jharkhand, where the party’s candidate was defeated by the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha warhorse, Shibu Soren. The BJP may be jubilant at having taken the Goa assembly and may hope to topple the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra, but the results in the crucial Hindi belt and the eastern states do not bode well.

Although the BJP need not be too disheartened since in general, the results have gone in favour of the party in power in the states, the failure to retain the Dumka parliamentary seat is a major setback. The elections were occasioned by Babulal Marandi’s vacating his Lok Sabha seat when he took over as chief minister of the state. Dumka has long been considered a BJP stronghold since Marandi won the seat in successive general elections in 1998 and 1999. This time, Marandi and senior BJP leaders campaigned extensively, but the party candidate, Ramesh Hembrom, lost by a margin of well over a lakh votes.

Allies ahead

In contrast, the Rashtriya Janata Dal candidate had no problems retaining the Danapur assembly seat — vacated by Laloo Prasad Yadav after he was elected to the Rajya Sabha — defeating his BJP opponent by a convincing margin. The RJD also retained Chhattarpur assembly seat by defeating the Janata Dal (United), a BJP ally. In West Bengal too, the ruling Left Front won the byelection to the Onda assembly seat by routing yet another National Democratic Alliance partner, the Trinamool Congress of Mamata Banerjee. The Trinamool candidate, in fact, forfeited his deposit in Onda.

Though the BJP’s allies did well in UP and Orissa, its ranks remain demoralized in the two states. In Orissa, where the BJD wrested the Bhadrak assembly seat from the Congress, the state chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, refused to involve the BJP in the poll campaign. Disgruntled BJP leaders say they feel they have been treated like untouchables, but can’t do anything because the party’s central leadership want the coalition to continue. Patnaik, it seems, is trying to distance himself from the BJP: he tried to project the Bhadrak result as a victory of the BJD’s “secular principles”.

Losing out

In UP, the BSP not only retained the Akbarpur Lok Sabha seat, but it also wrested two of the three assembly seats for which elections were held, from the Samajwadi Party. The BJP, the junior partner in the UP coalition, well knows that these victories will strengthen the UP chief minister’s position at its own expense. Already, Mayavati has reversed the previous BJP regime’s reservation policy and removed bureaucrats known to be close to the BJP. Kalraj Mishra’s resignation as BJP president and Vinay Katiyar’s elevation to the post have brought to the fore divisions within the party’s state unit.

What then are the lessons of the results of these byelections? One, the BJP and its allies are yet to make any headway in their anti-Laloo Yadav drive in Bihar. Two, in UP and Orissa, the BJP’s allies have gained ground, while the BJP continues to stagnate.

And three, it is fast losing ground in Jharkhand. The Marandi government has already had a brush with trouble — five non-BJP ministers resigned before the elections, in protest against the BJP’s big-brotherly attitude. Though they rejoined soon after, the Dumka defeat may exacerbate the conflicts in the ruling coalition. That apart, Soren’s emphatic victory shows that he is on a comeback trail. Already, he has demanded Marandi’s resignation.

For the moment however, the BJP has no intentions of removing Marandi. Or at least, that is what Yashwant Sinha, finance minister and member of parliament from Hazaribag in Jharkhand, says. But, with growing opposition to Marandi, within and outside, the BJP may soon have to change its mind.

   

 
 
NO TIME FOR CELEBRATION 
 
 
BY SUDIPTA BHATTACHARJEE
 
 
On a warm July day 16 years ago, a battle-weary but defiant young Mizo led a batch of 191 militants to surrender at Parva, where 18 bamboo huts had been erected for them to stay in. Today, Zoramthanga is still leading his men, as chief minister.

The Mizoram accord, signed on June 30, 1986 to herald the cessation of 20 years of maleficent insurgency, is upheld as one of the most successful peace pacts ever drafted. Its anniversary, therefore, is an occasion to celebrate. Possibly no one relishes this fact more than the man at the helm of affairs, having been witness to the fluctuating fortunes of his people for over four decades.

It has indeed been a chequered route for Mizo governance, from the mautam (famine) of 1960 to the hard-won mauna (peace) in 1986. The ruling Mizo National Front, formed as the Mizo National Famine Front, to combat the ravages of bamboo flowering and the resultant rodent invasion on the granaries, shed the word “famine” from its name to don political colours the following year.

Initially, the MNF, led by a former clerk of the district council and ex-serviceman, Laldenga, declared independence of Mizoram as its goal. In February 1966, the MNF’s armed cadre launched largescale disturbances, simultaneously attacking government installations; killing, kidnapping and unleashing what turned into the bloodiest insurgency in recorded history. Protracted efforts notwithstanding, the first two peace accords (1976 and 1980) failed.

The accord was finally signed on June 30, 1986 and Laldenga arrived in Aizawl on July 5 to a rousing welcome. At his swearing-in ceremony, he promised the formulation of proper rehabilitation schemes for his former comrades-in-arms. While three MNF leaders were sworn into the ministry — his deputy, Zoramthanga, Rualchhina and Tawnluia. He planned to rehabilitate others in security forces like the Assam Rifles, the Mizoram Armed police and the Indian army. Or so he said, and euphoria set in.

Since the MNF was a political organization, it managed to successfully transform its underground set-up to an effective mass-based organization and won the fifth general elections in 1987. However, the transition from a close-knit guerrilla outfit to a political party in an established democracy soon took its toll. The surrendered militants were given financial grants, but job offers were not forthcoming. Prices spiralled, and scarcity of essential commodities sparked public ire. This, coupled with resentment over liberal distribution of liquor licences, led to the reduction of the MNF government to a minority. After a spell of president’s rule, the Congress regained power in 1989.

It took the MNF 10 years to wrest power again. When Zoramthanga was sworn in as chief minister in 1998, he inherited a near-bankrupt treasury. Most of the men who fought alongside him in the jungles continued to live in abject poverty, having squandered the money given to them. “The accord specified compensation for those whose houses had been damaged in army operations. Urban residents were paid, but those of us who were herded out of our homes to cluster villages, known as Protective Progressive Villages, were not compensated, though our huts were burnt down,” a surrendered rebel says.

Former chief secretary and signatory to the accord, Pu Lalkhama, corroborates this: “The Centre failed to fulfil the proviso concerning rehabilitation of surrendered militants. There was no proper scheme to bring them to the mainstream.”

Yet the accord had specified in clause 3.3: “The Central government will take steps for the resettlement and rehabilitation of underground MNF personnel coming overground after considering the schemes proposed in this regard by the government of Mizoram.”

The accord also specifies, in clauses 12(A) and (B): “There is already a scheme in force for payment of ex gratia to heirs/dependents of those killed during disturbances. Arrangements will be made to expeditiously disburse payment to eligible persons.

“Consequent on verification done by a joint team of officers, the government of India has already made arrangements for payment of compensation in respect of damaged crops, buildings destroyed/damaged during the action in Mizoram”.

The seething resentment continues to focus on lack of proper rehabilitation and non-payment of compensation and even rent for land and buildings occupied by security forces during counter-insurgency operations. The Centre had sanctioned Rs 15 crore for people whose houses were destroyed or damaged, but this amount remained undisbursed, in the custody of the state government.

When Zoramthanga, once “vice-president” and “defence minister” of Laldenga’s jungle cadre, became chief minister in 1998, there was a flicker of hope that as a former insurgent, he would assuage the grievances of his former comrades. Their “rehabilitation “centre at Luangmual Remna Runn near Aizawl is only a cluster of huts. To think that the government deducted Rs 20,000 per head (from the financial grant of Rs 60,000 paid to each surrendering militant) for their “food and stay” at this camp appears incredible. Yet that is the explanation offered by Mizoram’s present relief and rehabilitation minister, Aichhinga, a former hardcore rebel himself. Democracy, it appears, has failed to prove the great leveller here.

It has taken Zoramthanga nearly four years (of his five-year term) to initiate an inquiry into allegations of misappropriation of funds meant for the welfare of surrendered rebels. Last week, on the eve of the accord’s anniversary, his government initiated a probe by a four-member team headed by J.H. Ramfangzauva into the charges. The panel is expected to submit its report by the end of this month.

If this is the plight of a “model” accord, there are hurdles aplenty in the way of those envisaged for the future, the foremost being the rigidity of most militant outfits on “sovereignty”. Laldenga had faced a great deal of flak and was deserted by many for having “played into the hands of the Centre” on this count. Second, unlike in the case of Mizoram, few elected chief ministers will agree to step down to make way for rebel leaders. Third, and possibly the most vexing, the problem of rehabilitation remains unresolved.

With no satisfactory policy being devised to bring militants into the mainstream, surrender ceremonies remain exercises in futility. There are cases when genuinely repentant ones are left languishing in jails through tardy judicial procedures. It is time the government realized the need to overcome the false dichotomy between promoting systemic reform and working on individual cases. For most, however, “work” is anathema, after years of living off the gun and easy, unearned money. Yet gainful occupation is known to have restored the self-worth of former militants.

Instead of allowing resentments to fester, dialogue should be integrated into the rehabilitation process at the initial phases. This would help transform antagonistic postures and catalyze the process of adjustment without the predictably exaggerated response such a transition invariably entails.

The prevailing opacity of government welfare schemes is in large measure responsible for the feelings of anguish and frustration, leading to frequent jailbreaks by surrendered militants. The modalities of implementing an accord should ideally be worked out in the ceasefire period itself, instead of both parties adopting the perennial bellicose stance at the eleventh hour.

That Zoramthanga considers himself equipped to charter the course of peace is evident from the fact that he recently volunteered to mediate in talks with leaders of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah). He has also been singularly blessed with enviable luck. The year he was sworn in as chief minister, Mizoram was declared the most literate state in the country as well as the most peaceful. Now set to complete his term without any major hiccup, Zoramthanga should feel indebted to the accord that set him on course 16 summers ago.

   

 
 
DOCUMENT/ EVERY PENNY NOT PAID BACK IS A PENNY SAVED 
 
 
 
 
Sustainable debt financing is an important element for mobilizing resources for public and private investment. National comprehensive strategies to monitor and manage external liabilities...including sound macroeconomic policies and public resource management, are a key element in reducing national vulnerabilities. Deb-tors and creditors must share the responsibility for preventing and resolving unsustainable debt situations. Technical assistance for external debt management and debt tracking can play an important role and should be strengthened.

External debt relief can play a key role in liberating resources that can then be directed towards activities consistent with attaining sustainable growth and development, and therefore, debt relief measures should, where appropriate, be pursued vigorously and expeditiously, including within the Paris and London Clubs and other relevant forums. Noting the importance of re-establishing financial viability for those developing countries facing unsustainable debt burdens, we welcome initiatives that have been undertaken to reduce outstanding indebtedness and invite further national and international measures in that regard, including... debt cancellation and other arrangements.

The enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative provides an opportunity to strengthen the economic prospects and poverty reduction efforts of its beneficiary countries. Speedy, effective and full implementation of the Initiative...is critical. Heavily indebted poor countries should take policy measures necessary to become eligible for the Initiative. Future reviews of debt sustainability should also bear in mind the impact of debt relief on progress towards the achievement of the development goals...We stress the importance of continued flexibility with regard to the eligibility criteria...The computational procedures and assumptions underlying debt sustainability analysis need to be kept under review. Debt sustainability analysis at the completion point needs to take into account any worsening global growth prospects and declining terms of trade. Debt relief arrangements should seek to avoid imposing any unfair burden on other developing countries.

We stress the need for the International Monetary Fund and World Bank to consider any fundamental changes in countries’ debt sustainability caused by natural catastrophes, severe terms of trade shocks or conflict, when making policy recommendations, including for debt relief, as appropriate.

While recognizing that a flexible mix of instruments is needed to respond appropriately to countries’ different economic circumstances and capacities, we emphasize the importance of putting in place a set of clear principles for the management and resolution of financial crises that provide for fair burden-sharing between public and private sectors and between debtors, creditors and investors. We encourage donor countries to take steps to ensure that resources provided for debt relief do not detract from official development assistance...intended to be ava-ilable for developing countries. We also encourage exploring innovative mechanisms to address debt problems of developing countries, including middle-income countries and countries with economies in transition.

Addressing systemic issues: in order to complement national development efforts, we recognize the urgent need to enhance coherence, governance, and consistency of the international monetary, financial and trading systems. To contribute to that end, we underline the importance of continuing to improve global economic governance and to strengthen the United Nations’ leadership role in promoting development...efforts should be strengthened at the national level to enhance coordination among all relevant ministries and institutions. Similarly, we should encourage policy and programme coordination of international institutions and coherence at the operational and international levels to meet the Millennium Declaration development goals of sustained economic growth, poverty eradication and sustainable development.

To be concluded

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Enter the second man

Sir — Why has it suddenly become so crucial to chose a deputy prime minister (“Atal taps allies on deputy PM”, June 29)? There was a time when health had been failing Atal Bihari Vajpayee. There were two successive knee operations and the Union home minister, L.K. Advani, did much of the work. No need was felt for a deputy then. Neither was there talk of any such requirement when the prime minister showed that he was being unable to bear the workload. There were holidays in Kumarakom and Manali. But no questions of transferring the burden. Today, Vajpayee is supposed to be fit as a fiddle and apparently enjoying work. Why then does he have to have a second man in office? The answer is obvious. Vajpayee has been reduced to a figurehead in the prime minister’s office, where it is the Advani writ that runs. The parleys that will lead to Advani’s formal entry are only attempts to retain the mukhota while the reins of the government are taken over again by the hardliners in the party.
Yours faithfully,
Jaideep Acharya, Calcutta

Better relations

Sir — It was heartening to read the report, “Doctors signal self-correction” (June 16). That the Calcutta branch of the Indian Medical Association has promptly come up with a series of measures to better doctor-patient relations is an indication of the impact the Kunal Saha case has had on the medical community. However, one cannot agree with Krishnendu Mukherjee’s observation of there being only a “small number” of black sheep among doctors. Actually, good doctors are scarce.

A closer look at the suggestions made by the city doctors will reveal that they are only trying to safeguard their own interests. For instance, the doctors hold that cases related to death owing to medical negligence should be referred to a government or quasi-government body or a coroner. They also felt that aggrieved patients should not go to the police first.

The second suggestion that patients stop patronizing the “number one doctor” does not make much sense. A patient should be free to visit the best doctor if he so desires as long as he can afford to pay his fees. Why should a person be forced to compromise on matters of his health? Besides, it is the responsibility of the IMA to ensure that all practising doctors are competent enough to deal with all kinds of cases. Senior doctors should bear the responsibility of training their juniors properly.

It is also necessary that both the doctor and the patient keep track of the progress made during treatment. A doctor should document the case histories of his patients and keep himself informed of the patient’s progress. The IMA could also carry out surprise checks on dispensaries and clinics to ensure that all medical records are updated regularly. The IMA could also set up awareness centres which would help patients find the right doctor for their ailments.

Yours faithfully,
N.R. Venkateswaran, Calcutta

Sir — As has been rightly pointed out by the Calcutta branch of the IMA, the lack of proper communication between the doctor and the patient can often lead to misunderstandings and misgivings. The medical profession calls for hard labour and doctors have to take tremendous risks on a regular basis, particularly when the patient’s condition is critical or in the absence of proper medical facilities. Sometimes the economic condition of a patient does not afford much scope for investigation and the doctor has to rely on his clinical eye while making a diagnosis. It is therefore unfair to punish a doctor who has saved thousands of lives by keeping him in constant fear of being tried by consumer forums or by law courts. This will not only deter doctors from taking up critical cases but will also make them recommend expensive tests which many will be unable to afford.. The fear of litigation may also discourage the best students from joining the medical profession.

In the interests of our society, the medical profession should be brought out of the ambit of consumer and criminal courts. Aggrieved patients should be permitted to approach the courts only after the Medical Council of India has had a chance to look into the matter. Both the patient and the doctor can approach the courts only if they are dissatisfied with MCI’s decision. The compensation in such cases should also be realistic and under no circumstances should the licence of a medical practitioner be withheld permanently.

Doctors should also be protected from the wrath of patients’ families who harass them whenever a patient dies. In such situations, doctors are often advised by local committee members not to go to the police. Unfortunately the media too do not represent the doctor’s version of events. A more constructive role played by the media would go a long way in improving the doctor-patient relationship.

Yours faithfully,
D. Mukherjee, Guwahati

Sir — I disagree with Ajit Pande’s statement that families with an ailing member have a tough time trying to find a doctor, especially between Saturday evenings and Monday mornings (“Patients cry foul at medical meet”, June 16). It is common knowledge that a number of private and government hospitals remain open during the weekend to deal with medical emergencies. One should not expect the same doctor who had treated the patient earlier to be on call during an emergency. Doctors too are human and society should not deny them the right to spend a couple of days with their families. A stressed doctor is more likely to err. The IMA should regulate the number of hours a doctor can practice in a week or the number of patients a doctor can examine in order to lessen the burden on medical professionals.

Yours faithfully,
D.K. Ray, Calcutta

Value for money?

Sir — It is a pity that educational institutions in India have become money- spinners. Although education is a fundamental right, the government has failed to provide adequate funds for primary education. This has encouraged private institutions which charge exorbitant fees from their students. In Karnataka, the lok ayukta under the guidance of a retired Supreme Court judge, N. Venkatachala, has started a crusade against corruption. One hopes that organizations such as these would also take up cudgels against corrupt educational institutions.
Yours faithfully,
B.S. Ganesh, Bangalore

Sir — As a retired physics teacher, I feel that the new physics syllabus prescribed by the Burdwan University for Part I of the pass course examination will prove difficult for students. Only 12 per cent of the students managed to qualify in the physics theoretical examination last year. Students did not perform so dismally in the other elective subjects. It is unfortunate that the future of the students depends on the understanding and sympathy of the examiners.

Yours faithfully,
Balai Chandra Das, Durgapur

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